Kalief Browder never should have been locked up. At age 16 he was jailed on charges he stole a backpack because his parents couldn’t pay his $3,000 cash bail. Without ever standing trial, he was imprisoned for three years—nearly two years in solitary confinement. After an article about Kalief was published in The New Yorker magazine, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio vowed to clear the backlogs in state court and reduce the youth-inmate population.
The effort was too late for Kalief. After release, he never recovered from prison’s indignities, including multiple assaults and food deprivation during solitary. In 2015 he committed suicide at his parents’ home. His tragedy illustrates the soul-killing costs of a criminal justice system that disproportionately confines America’s Black citizens. As one author has described the mass incarceration of Black males in the U.S., it’s “the new Jim Crow.”
Our spiritual lockdowns, however, run across racial lines. During SNCC’s Freedom Summer in Mississippi, leader Bob Moses observed that “white people are probably more oppressed, in terms of their ability to speak, than Negroes.” By that he no doubt meant that white Mississippians were held captive by their own racist theology and culture.
As the apostle Paul describes such imprisonment, “Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed” (NIV). As a “Hebrew of Hebrews,” Paul understood this more than most. He knew the confinement imposed by a law no human could keep. “So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian” (NIV). God’s freedom is freeing, indeed.
Jesus, we thank you for paying the price to unlock our heavy spiritual chains. Amen.
The fact that we trust in God does not guarantee that life will be easy. Believers suffer discouragement as well. Elijah is a powerful prophet of God who faces profound discouragement. He looks around and sees faithlessness and desolation, as does the psalmist wrestling with his own sense of despair. In both cases the person’s spirit is revived—by divine visitation to Elijah and by the psalmist’s self-talk about the truth of God’s faithfulness. The New Testament readings take us in a different direction. Paul speaks of the freedom we have when we are in Christ, heirs to all of God’s promises. The Gospel writer tells of another kind of freedom, the freedom experienced by a man delivered from demon possession.
Read 1 Kings 19:1-15a. Recall a time you ran to a silent place. How did God send you back into the world?
Read Psalm 42. The author asks us to imagine the words of this psalm coming from the mouth of Elijah and the Gerasene man. Consider how these words might be yours as well.
Read Galatians 3:23-29. How does your faith in Christ help you to realize that there is freedom in unity rather than to flee in fear?
Read Luke 8:26-39. What true story do you have to tell to the world of what Jesus has done for you?
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